Saturday, November 12, 2011
The Most Popular Artist In America
From The New Republic, a book review by Jed Perl...
THE LOVE AFFAIR between the intellectuals and the trashmeisters, now more than a hundred years old, has just overtaken the man who is by some measures the most popular painter in America. Thomas Kinkade: The Artist in the Mall is an essay collection that exudes a creepy fascination. While a number of the contributors manage to provide level-headed assessments of Kinkade’s place in the American imagination, I am not remotely convinced that such attention should be lavished on Kinkade’s sugar-drenched Middle America, with its frosted gingerbread domiciles, dew-kissed old-fashioned small-town Main Streets, and farmlands so fertile they look as if they’re on steroids. Alexis L. Boylan, who edited the book, would no doubt protest that the size of Kinkade’s reputation justifies the attention on sociological or cultural grounds, pure and simple. I know that many intellectuals believe we overlook middlebrow tastes at our own risk. But there is a large dose of reverse snobbery threaded through this collection. More than a generation after Pop Art became holy writ, it is rather tiresome to be announcing yet again that we live in a democracy where one person’s treasure is another person’s trailer trash, and that their masterworks are not necessarily inferior to the Picasso’s and Matisse’s in our museums. Many of the contributors to Boylan’s anthology want to devour every last bite of their middlebrow cake, but only after each tasty morsel has been skewered on a highbrow fork. The problem is not that they respect Kincade anthropologically, it is that they respect him as an artist.